Government

Treat weed like wine, Iowa City lawmaker says

But Bolkcom's call for recreational use won't advance

FILE PHOTO: A flowering marijuana plant.    REUTERS/Chris Wattie
FILE PHOTO: A flowering marijuana plant. REUTERS/Chris Wattie
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DES MOINES — The production, sale and recreational use of marijuana would be legal in Iowa under legislation proposed by an Iowa City lawmaker. However, even its author says the proposed bill has little to no chance of being passed into law.

Iowa City Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom said Monday he’ll introduce a bill to end the prohibition of marijuana in the state. But he also said legalizing recreational marijuana likely remains a pipe dream as long as Republicans control the state lawmaking process — the governor is Republican as are the majorities in the Iowa House and Senate.

But Bolkcom said he wanted to start the conversation in Iowa because he feels support is increasing in the Midwest. Michigan voters in November voted to make recreational marijuana legal, and leaders in Minnesota and Illinois are discussing it, too.

Nationally, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana.

“I think legal marijuana is coming to the Midwest,” Bolkcom said. “It’s time for us in Iowa to begin to have a serious discussion about how we might tackle that or move away from prohibition.”

Bolkcom said the prohibition of marijuana has been bad policy because it is expensive for local governments and the state to arrest, prosecute and jail people who sell or use marijuana, and because black Iowans are disproportionately jailed for marijuana use.

He said legalizing marijuana would create jobs for businesses that would grow and sell the product, and Iowa stands to lose those jobs to neighboring states that may act sooner.

“Iowa should stop wasting millions of dollars and destroying the lives of our citizens,” Bolkcom said. “We should instead welcome the new businesses, jobs and economic opportunity that Iowa can gain by regulating marijuana like alcohol.”

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Bolkcom said his proposal will recommend Iowans be 21 years or older to legally purchase marijuana, and that the state’s alcoholic beverages division would regulate the industry. He said marijuana would be taxed, and any state revenue would help fund prevention and anti-addiction programs.

That was not enough to sway Sen. Brad Zaun, an Urbandale Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I am not open-minded,” Zaun said. “If that bill comes to the Judiciary Committee, it won’t go anywhere.”

Zaun has been supportive of attempts to expand Iowa’s medical cannabis program, which allows Iowans to use an oil derived from the marijuana plant for medical uses if they have a physician’s recommendation. But on Monday he made clear the distinction between his desire to expand the medical program and his opposition to recreational marijuana use.

“Will it come someday? Yeah, probably. But not at this time while I’m the Judiciary chair,” Zaun said.

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